The Nosemaker's Apprentice
nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
May 1, 2009
The Nosemaker's Apprentice is a fractured fairytale, an apologia for plastic surgery told by a modern-day sketchy surgeon to his skeptical young daughter. The father, played by a convincingly smug Ian Lowe, chronicles the medieval history of plastic surgery through the life of the innovator and hero, Gavin the Nosemaker. Starting as a humble apprentice in England, fashioning new noses for lepers and wounded knights, Gavin comes to travel Europe, pioneering techniques and materials, even developing new and improved body parts for the Queen of France herself.
The play feels like a long sketch comedy piece, complete with bad wigs, funny accents, and the reach for every possible gag. The talented cast delivers with the energy and commitment of children with imaginations set loose. Deftly directed by Peter James Cook, absurd and comic visions come to life on an often bare stage. In this Monty Pythonesque atmosphere, character actors get the most fun—Rightor Doyle and Corey Sullivan both shine in the multiple supporting characters they must quickly transform into, hilariously playing up every moment of each smaller part (mentor, servant, queen).
For such a wacky premise, the hero's journey is surprisingly conventional—the Chosen One surpasses his mentors, goes too far, and ultimately learns his lesson. All the while his Girl waits, suffers, and is ultimately saved (and made beautiful again) by his return. There are moments where the plot dares to deviate from the conventional, (for example, as when Gavin attracts men wherever he goes), but these are tossed off in another round of jokes.
Without the versatility and creativity the actors bring through their performance, the script on its own also lacks a satirical bite for a subject so fraught with implications in our current time. With the exception of a scene where the Queen of France's obsession with appearance is taken to a wonderfully surreal place (she demands a mare's tail and the golden eye of a snake, among other improvements), the subtext is mostly silent. While some situations hint at the way our relationship to our bodies have changed since the very earth-bound, brutish Dark Ages, there's no claim to historical insight. And yet, for all the anachronisms executed for the sake of a laugh, there are little connections made to our own time, while oddly, the moral of the contemporary plastic surgeon's story seems to be that reconstructive surgery is good, while cosmetic surgery is the work of the devil. But perhaps I'm only betraying my own fascination with plastic surgery here, and my disappointed hopes for something incisive on the subject (What of the normalization of surgery? What of Jocelyn Wildenstein? Pamela Anderson? All of our own crazy character actors?!). Certainly, as a showcase for fine comic talent given a chance to play, the production fits the bill.